The 20th century was filled with so much sudden, unprecedented change that has translated to enormous shifts in the ways we see and interact with the world. But those changes did not come all at once, but in waves. There was the automotive revolution, the post-WWII prosperity boom in America, the cultural changes in the 60s and the 70s, and finally the computer revolution. Each of these made its mark on the people growing up during these times and there were cumulative effects as well. Currently there are three generations making most impact in the workplace: the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials. Here we will talk about the characteristics Baby Boomers display on the job.
The Baby Boomer generation is made up of the children born after WWII was over – those born from 1946 to 1964. In America, these kids grew up in an era of unprecedented prosperity for the working class, and they were raised by parents who were weary of war and economic depression. They wanted better for their children than they’d had, but they still expected them to work, behave in school, help out with their younger brothers and siblings, and respect the rules and authority.
While America prospered in the 50s and 60s, the lifestyles of average people were not in any way lavish. Houses and salaries were smaller, and people were expected to share and make do. Many Boomers were the first in their families to go to college or other trade schools, and the expanding economy created jobs that they filled. Schooling was far less expensive as well. Baby Boomers hit the traditional milestones of adulthood – employment, marriage, children, and homeownership much earlier than young people do today. It took them some time, but this generation was able to earn a much more comfortable way of life than what their parents had had.
In 2011 the very first Boomers reached retirement age, but they are highly represented in management and will continue to be in managerial positions for many years to come.
Considering this history, what are the characteristics of Boomers in the workplace?
Work-oriented – Doing work, often physical work, was a part of Boomers’ childhood and young adulthood. It was expected, they expect to do it, and they expect other people to do as much of it as it takes to get the job done without complaint. Boomers don’t separate life from work as easily as younger generations do because working is considered such a vital part of life as well as a way to self identify. Many Boomers prioritized work over their private lives and expect others to do the same.
Goal-oriented – Baby Boomers came of age when financial success was achievable with hard work and time put in, and they believe that all of those things are important: financial success, hard work, and time on the job. They are much more likely to consider working overtime important and necessary and to stay with a company remain loyal to it because of their history with it. They believe they will be rewarded for the time they put in.
Independent and self-reliant – Boomers learned many basic skills as youngsters and also the attitude that broken things can and should be fixed. They grew up taking things apart and putting them back together – before everything was computerized, this was both possible and expected. Boomers also are more likely to question authority and believe that traditional methods may not be best.
Interactive – Boomers experiences have been collective. They lived in stable, large families. They learned in full classrooms, and they worked from 9-5 on the job with their coworkers. They understand an interactive workplace, they appreciate meetings, and they work together in the same building, even when they’re working independently.
These characteristics definitely affect the way Boomers approach their jobs, management, and their coworkers, so it’s important to understand how ingrained and important these values are to this generation.